Armored Core V has its flaws, but it also offers an accessible yet deep mech action game with a strong focus on network play.
The Armored Core series has been around since the original PlayStation, but to date I probably haven't spent more than two hours with the series until I received V in for review. This is primarily because I have never owned one of the games, not because it's a bad series. For this latest entry, From Software pushes online multiplayer integration almost to the degree of MAG. Several features of the game are not available if you don't sign into the PSN, and the structure and flexibility of ACV is such that it really works best if you connect up and participate in the online community.
A view from Scan mode.
ACV does have a Story mode, however, which takes players across all of the eight areas of the World Map. These are the same areas where all of the modes play out. Regions include places like a mining sector, an abandoned city, a vast canyon, an alpine base, and a marine facility. The Story mode requires that you beat one mission to unlock others. In brief, the story revolves around the Corporation and the Resistance. I haven't completed the story, so I don't have the full picture, but it's moderately interesting and provides a decent backdrop to the full-on combat missions.
In addition to Story mode there are Order missions, which tend to be shorter and have more specific and simpler objectives. There are eighty-three of these, and you can do them in two player co-op. The second player can be hired in the Mercenaries menu, which is great if you want to temporarily bring in a more skilled player or just need a specific type of mech. You can also just play with a member of your team. Before you can even play ACV, you have to either create or join a team. Creating a team is straight-forward and involves things like picking a name and emblem (or create your own emblem). You have the option to change how other players can join your team, if at all (i.e. require password, invite, etc), and you can change to another team at anytime. The game supports ten player multiplayer battles, encouraging lots of clan battles.
Mass destruction for all.
Even before creating or joining a team, you'll need to come up with a Pilot name, player setting (hardcore, casual, etc), your location, and a few other basics. This is all wrapped up in a cool presentation that reminded me of Command & Conquer a little bit, what with the very futuristic technical feel and computerized voice guiding you. Most of these initial settings can be adjust later; customization is something the Armored Core series is known for afterall, and in that regard I don't think series veterans will be disappointed with the amount of customization options and tools they have at their disposal. In fact, all told, there are some 500 unique components that are available for purchase, ranging from different weapons, boosters, and head components, and so on. You can create your own team logo and decals as well, and even trade components to other players, although I haven't tried this. For a series newcomer, getting a handle on the variety of components was made a lot easier thanks to the detailed stats and even line graphs that showed the progression of upgrades and stat changes that different components provided.
A plethora of customization choices are available.
To buy all these new toys or even keep your Core running, you have to earn AU, which as you may know happens to be the chemical symbol for gold. In the story mode, you earn money by completing missions for the Corporation. Even as a lowly rookie, the Corporation pays for results. There are numerous bonuses within the missions as well, known as sub-quests, which include destroying x number of a certain type of enemy vehicle, defeating a special enemy character in a short period of time, not sustaining a lot of damage, etc. You can check your status on these and the main quest at anytime.
Historically, controls for mech games and others like Descent on PC have proven to be the source of a steep learning curve. I thought From Software did a good job of making ACV a lot less challenging to get into thanks to an easy control scheme. Targeting is made extra simple in that you just move the large reticule over enemies and then you're good to fire away with L2 and R2. The reticule also blends in other useful stats such as your total available energy. You can switch out the equipped weapons with Triangle + L2 or R2. Depending on how you configure your Core, you can have five weapons slotted total, each with their own source of ammo.
Boosting is essential if you want to get anywhere in a timely manner, and that's done with L1. Jumping (X) turns on boost as well, and you can perform a very quick boost with L3. R3 switches you between Combat mode, which is your most-used mode, to Scan mode. The scan mode shows the route to take if you are playing Story or Order missions, and it can show you the health of enemies if you have deployed scanner drones with Circle. I like the bluish tint for scan mode, but hearing the computer say "scan mode" and "combat mode" every time you switch back gets old quick, whether you're using the female or male voices.
Expect a lot of explosions.
The overall presentation is one of ACV's weakest areas. I will say that I really like the boxart and the opening cinematic is awesome. The menus are great too, but in game (where it counts), the graphics are low on detail and look dated, sometimes very much so. Many in game objects explode and instantly disappear if you touch them in any way, such as just grazing a car with your leg. These objects look bad to begin with, but their explosion and subsequent disappearance is further awful. Weapon effects and enemies, especially those that aren't Cores, look rough. I haven't experienced any framerate problems however, and online play has been mostly smooth, so that's a plus at least. The sound package is better overall, but the voiceovers can wear a little thin.
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